Tomorrow, President Obama will be signing a $16.3 billion bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs during a visit to Fort Belvoir, VA. The bill will expand health care for veterans and is hoped to be the first step towards fixing problems such as lengthy wait times, by allowing veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA health facility (or cannot get an appointment within 30 days of request) to seek outside medical care. But is it enough?
Some experts disagree. Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says that the bill “is not a silver bullet, but rather it is only a Band-aid and one that will soon fall off.” The VA system has inherent flaws–one being the fact that each day, an estimated 200,000 veterans seek care from 1,700 facilities across the country. Allowing them to go outside of the VA facilities, but still be covered, is definitely a step forward.
And proponents of the bill say this is only the beginning. But there are still those who worry that the bill better protects the VA, rather than the veterans it’s meant to serve. The bill will expand access to outside health care for about three years, but funding after that point has yet to be determined.
This bill will also benefit veterans seeking higher education, making all public universities that receive GI Bill money give veterans in-state tuition. Currently, if a veteran were to enroll in an out-of-state public college, the GI Bill would cover in-state tuition, and the veteran student would need to cover the extra. But after signing the bill into law, the states will take on the extra costs. Although this will cost public schools more in the long run, bringing in more veteran students will bring a new perspective to classrooms and will open up new horizons for those students in the future.
Although this reform is a long way from fixing all of the problems with the VA, it will open up new avenues for fixing some problems and will open the door for new opportunities for veterans’ health and education.